Tokyo is known as one of the weirdest cities in the world; but in a good way. The Japanese certainly aren’t short on strange traditions, customs or occurrences, and the best way to experience those in their most modern incarnation is in the capital, the metropolis of Tokyo. To call Tokyo ‘a city’ is, in fact, doing it an injustice; it’s more like a series of smaller cities, each with their own characteristics and atmospheres. You’ve got the skyscrapers of Shinjuku, the trendy urban feel of Shibuya, the otaku mecca of Akihabara, the peaceful, traditional streets of Asakusa, the edgy, up-and-coming Ikebukuro, the greenery-lined Ueno, and the club-filled hipness of Roppongi. Each of them has much to offer the intrepid traveler; as you emerge from the Tokyo subway to experience each of these places, it’ll be just like that moment in The Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy steps into full-blown technicolor.
Of course, there’s much more to Tokyo than just the gimmicks. But my oh my, the gimmicks are fun, and some of the most fun are the selection of themed cafés and restaurants available to those with an open mind. It can be a great way to punctuate an intensive trip to Japan; a lot of these places require minimum customer interaction, as you just sit and soak up the crazy atmosphere. Themed cafes aren’t really a big thing in the West, but the Japanese are mad for them, and there’s something for everyone. Check out BUCKiTDREAM and see if any fellow travelers have braved the weird and wonderful world of Tokyo’s more outlandish cafés and restaurants, and then make sure to jot down some ideas in your ever-handy BUCKiTDREAM planner, so you can take full advantage of all the potential adventures that await you!
Cat Café Calico The flagship of themed cafés (which have even seen a little expansion into the West), the cat café is much beloved by Tokyo’s foreign visitors. Calico, one of the best in the city, can be found on the 6th floor of a building in downtown Shinjuku. As you exit the bustling, sometimes seedy streets of Kabukicho, you’d be hard pressed to imagine an oasis of felines existing a mere few feet above you. And yet, there they are; a carpeted room full of beautiful exotic cats, all spoiled rotten and loving the showering of attention they receive daily from customers.
It costs 1,000 yen to get in, with drinks another 200 yen extra. You can stay as long as you like, but the price goes up every half hour. It’s exceedingly calm, quiet and relaxing, and for their part, the majority of cats are extremely friendly. You can take as many photos as you like, and they also encourage you to come back by offering a free drink card for your next visit. With so many distinctive cats on offer, it’s likely that you’ll want to return and catch your favorite feline at least once more before you leave!
Robot Restaurant Just a few meters down from Cat Café Calico lies the infamous Robot Restaurant, whose premises have expanded to pretty much dominate the entire street they’re located on. The Robot Restaurant is a full-on assault on the senses, with shocking neon, thumping music, and a squad of scantily-clad women staging nightly mock battles with fearsome robots.
Outfitted at a cost of 10 billion yen, this once-in-a-blue-moon eatery is certainly worth a visit. There are four 90-minute shows each night, each one following a different storyline, so you can be sure not to miss any action. The food is certainly playing second fiddle to the spectacle here, but it’s not bad; you get a Bento box upon arrival with a variety of snacks and drinks also available throughout the show. It’s a little pricey to get in, with a 7,000 yen cover charge, but you’re at least guaranteed an experience you’ll never forget, whether you want to or not. However, if you have any sensitivity to lights or any trace of epilepsy, it might be best to give this one a miss…
Gundam Café One of Japan’s most enduring and beloved franchises, Gundam has been going gangbusters since the late seventies. This has, believe it or not, resulted in a rather large array of consumerism, as in its 37-year history, appetite for the franchise has not faded in the slightest. The mecca of anime and manga in Tokyo is the ‘Electric City’ of Akihabara, which is exactly where you’ll find the Gundam Café, an eatery entirely based on the giant robot series.
The place itself is pretty small, but it’s very tourist-friendly, with English-speaking staff and reasonable prices on most of the chow. Speaking of which, there’s plenty of Gundam-themed food on offer; they’ll even decorate your coffee with a chocolate powder Gundam head if you like. There’s also a small souvenir shop where you can buy figurines, chopsticks and the like, before heading out into the wilds of Akihabara to fully feast on all the anime-related goods.
Maid Café The phenomenon of the Maid Café has been growing in popularity for the last decade or so; these days, you can find them all over Tokyo, with different franchises operating a number of cafés around the city. One of the most popular is the Maidreamin’, a chain which has its headquarters in Chiyoda.
Maid Cafés are strange places; the idea is that the maids treat the customers as masters or mistresses as if they were in a private home rather than a public eatery. Originally designed to pander to the less-than-savory fantasies of its otaku customers, the maid café business has picked up steam recently, and now provides a light-hearted and entertaining take on the familiar tradition of extreme Japanese hospitality.
You can play games with the maids, take photos with them, consume cutely designed food and drinks and watch the whole place erupt now and again when a dance number blasts over the speakers. Prices vary, but there’s usually a cover charge/entrance fee; after that, the menu prices are pretty reasonable.
Alcatraz E.R. One of the more disturbing eating experiences you can have in Tokyo comes in the form of Alcatraz E.R. in Shibuya, which thrusts you into a nightmarish landscape of prisoners and patients.
Styling itself after some kind of disused prison ward that adheres to no medical practice standards whatsoever, there are all sorts of adult-oriented fun to be had in here if you can stomach it; the decor consists of blood, brains, bodies and even a dildo or two, while the food is made to look as unappetizing as possible, coming in such forms as a dead man’s hand and a used tampon.
However, it’s all in good fun; the staff are all in on the act, so if a walk on the gruesome side is your thing, then by all means, step into Alcatraz E.R. It sways to the pricey side compared with other restaurants in the area, but, like a few things on this list, it’s an experience you won’t forget in a hurry – which (if you’re lucky) will be the way you feel about your whole trip to Japan!
Ready to take off to the Land of the Rising Sun yet? It’ll never happen if you don’t start planning, so get on BUCKiTDREAM and start posting your bucket list boxes to check. And don’t forget to share any weird and wonderful photos on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!